Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Light showers that fell Monday night and yesterday morning weren’t enough to revive those wilting plants that usually seem to need little watering in autumn’s cooler weather.
The Washington region has chalked up a rainfall deficit of more than 6 inches and passed the threshold definition of a drought which is less than 85 percent receiving about 81 percent of normal precipitation over the last six months, according to the National Weather Service.
The rainfall outlook will improve slightly as changes occurring over the Pacific Ocean could create a high-pressure area over the central United States, NWS meteorologist Neal DiPasquale said yesterday.
A Midwest high could lead to low-pressure “troughs” and more rain from Friday through the end of the month along the Atlantic seaboard, he said.
But the forecast is cold comfort to gardeners, farmers, foresters and firefighters in a region that has tallied only 2.14 inches of rain since Sept. 1.
Fallen leaves, low humidity and scattered forest fires have sparked a ban on burning in Maryland, where Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, has declared a drought watch for much of the state and called on residents to conserve water voluntarily.
The near-record drought of 1999 led to temporary mandated curbs on water use in Maryland and a few Virginia cities, but it also showed that area reservoirs can supply immediate needs.
And for folks who labored over gardens this spring and summer it is easier to curtail long showers than to resist watering shrubs and perennials that could die from combination of drought and the cold-weather stress over the winter.
“It’s a very serious concern particularly for new plants,” said David G. Yost, plant specialist at Merrifield Garden Center in Fairfax, where he’s been posting signs and e-mailing customers to remind them that “plants need water the entire year.”
Mr. Yost suggests soaking plants that have been in place less than 18 months once every seven to 10 days, and established plants every two to three weeks. Plants should not be watered when the soil temperature falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spraying plants with a pine-resin based anti-transpirant can help them retain moisture and may be needed to keep broad-leaf evergreens such as hollies, Leyland cypress and magnolias healthy through a winter drought, he said.
A rainfall surplus through July has made the harvest bountiful for most farmers, said Maryland Department of Agriculture spokesman Donald Vandrey.
But farmers who made lots of hay and reaped bountiful crops, ripened to peak flavor in dry days of late summer, are wincing at the dryness now.
Frederick County farmer Roger Wilson said his cattle and his customers tapped into his hay supply in late September, almost three weeks early this year.
“But the big problem’s going to come next spring,” Mr. Wilson said, because “what’s [sown] is not sprouting” without moisture.
Soybean yields have suffered from the dryness already.
And if insufficient rain and snow cause winter crops not to germinate, topsoil could erode.
At least it’s “great for grapes”, which could make 2001 a year at least wine lovers can relish, Mr. Vandrey said.

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